The “Star Wars” franchise has entered another renaissance era over the past two years.
With the meteoric success of the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” and the fan-favored “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Disney is quickly earning back fan trust after the maligned sequel trilogy.
“Star Wars Visions,” the third major series in the franchise made solely for Disney’s streaming service, goes in a surprising direction.
The roots of this generation-spanning franchise go as far back as the 1950s with Akira Kurosawa films such as “The Seven Samurai” and “The Hidden Fortress.” George Lucas, the creator of the series, has repeatedly cited these films as influencing the making of “Star Wars.”
The use of peasant heroes, rogue princesses and ronins defending the innocent with sword-like weapons, are all obvious hallmarks of Kurosawa films that can be easily found in the space-fairing series beloved today. “Visions” takes this inspiration to heart, gathering seven major Japanese animation studios to produce nine animated shorts, each with their own individual story and style.
The first episode,“The Duel,” takes the clearest inspiration from those early films, focusing on a ronin-like Jedi defending a town from a band of Sith-led raiders. Where the episode diverges from this traditional story though is through the execution.
Produced by Kamikaze Douga (“Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure”), “The Duel” exudes style and flair with its black and white aesthetic and mix of computer graphics with hand-drawn features.
Other episodes of note include “The Ninth Jedi,” made by the production IG (“Ghost In The Shell”), which mixes the unmistakable score of John Williams with a dramatic atmosphere and surprising twist.
“The Ninth Jedi” also serves as one of the more complexly written episodes of the series, featuring an A plot revolving around the convocation of a handful of rogue Jedi and a B plot showcasing the escape of a galactic blacksmith’s daughter.
“The Elder,” animated by Trigger (“Kill la Kill” and “Little Witch Academia”) is one of the most tonally consistent with what fans have come to expect from “Star Wars,” with its focus on a Jedi and his apprentice visiting a remote planet only to come face-to-face with a powerful sith.
While “The Elder” may have the strongest sense of foreboding, the payoff with the reveal of the episode’s namesake may have been too much of a caricature to mesh with the tone of the story. Regardless, it’s among the best episodes in this short series.
Unfortunately, not every episode packs as much structure, or adheres as closely to the inspiring source material. Immediately following what may be the best of the episodes, is “Tatooine Rhapsody,” a wildly different “Star Wars” experience from Studio Colorido (“Penguin Highway”).
Where “The Duel” is a grim but bombastic tale, “Tattoine Rhapsody” could give one whiplash in just how quickly it diverges in atmosphere and content.
The second episode is much closer to a slice- of-life anime, focusing on a young Jedi attempting to start a rock band. What saves the episode from obscurity are the surprising cameos from “Star Wars” alumni. Despite its charm though, it lacks subtlety or even a clear message unlike the aforementioned episodes.
“T0-B1” also takes things in a different direction, from Science Saru (Devilman Crybaby). Focusing on a young robot-boy dreaming to become a Jedi, its imaginative presentation and bubbly tone hearken to that of older anime series’ like “Astro Boy” and “Mega Man” despite the dramatic nature of the final act. While the moral of the episode matches the tone “Star Wars” has become synonymous with, its jagged structure leaves much to be desired.
The result of all these varying styles episode-to-episode means “Visions” can be a very complex viewing experience. With the exception of taking place in the “Star Wars” universe, there’s no solid theme connecting each of the nine episodes.
Rather than being viewed as a whole, “Visions” is likely viewed best diegetically, with each episode being taken in as its own piece of medium.
“Star Wars Visions” may be a mixed assortment of content, but there’s bound to be something for everyone within that bag, whether it be for old fans of the “Star Wars” series or new fans brought in through the use of Japanese animation.
After “The Mandalorian,” “Clone Wars” and now “Star Wars Visions,” it seems Disney has finally settled on a plan for the saga after the mismanagement of the sequel films. “Visions” is the next step forward in this plan, to move “Star Wars” away from the big screen and toward the homes of fans.
“Star Wars Visions,” rated TV-PG, is available now on Disney+.